|Can I reclaim bank charges in 2010?|
It has been an eventful year when it comes to bank charges: a High Court and Appeal Court case was won on behalf of the consumer, but banks had the last laugh with a shock Supreme Court victory.
The good news is that you may be able to reclaim your bank charges despite the banks' legal victory; the bad news is this only applies to a very small percentage of claimants.
You will have to complain to your bank directly using our template letter. The likelihood is this will be unsuccessful following their court victory. You must then approach the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) with your case.
However, you can only do this if your charges are forcing you into severe financial hardship; for example, if you are not able to pay your utility bills due to the charges your bank has levied on you.
The FOS will not consider any bogus claims on this basis: you must be able to prove genuine financial hardship. This is not a loophole through which you can have your case heard when it would otherwise be dismissed. Anecdotal reports suggest the FOS will only look at cases where a person is unable to pay for a roof over their head or to put food on the table. It is that stark.
What other options are there?
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which started the legal case against the banks, was given one window of opportunity by the Supreme Court: it stated 'Regulation 5' of the law underpinning the OFT's case may allow it to commence another legal battle.
This regulation protects customers from any 'imbalance' with their bank if their account contract has not been 'individually negotiated'.
However, the OFT has since stated it will not continue its fight as any future legal challenge would have 'little chance of success'.
With this window of opportunity closed, there are two other options open to consumers: bank customers may be able to band together with consumer groups to take a US-style class action lawsuit against the banks under the Government's new Financial Services and Business Bill.
An individual – that is an everyday consumer – may also be able to take the bank charges case to the European Court of Justice and set a precedent that way. Any ruling by the European courts must be adopted by any member states. However, this could be a lengthy legal battle that would need the backing of a consumer group. No-one has so far stepped forward. As it stands, the chance of reclaiming charges for the vast majority of bank customers looks extremely slim.
There is a chance consumers may become more keen to move banks as a result of the publicity surrounding the OFT's two-year legal battle. This may result in increased competition between banks on bank charges and may drag their cost down in future. But this relates to future charges: it is extremely unlikely those charges already levied will be refunded.